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Program 609: Transmutation—The Music of Marga Richter (1926-2020)

KALW Broadcast Date: July 17, 2020 | Host: Charles Amirkhanian

Marga Richter emerged in a time when mainstream female composers were a rarity in contemporary music, with precious few examples of other women in her field. By the 1950’s she had become the first woman awarded a Master’s Degree in composition from the Juilliard School, and then garnered four prestigious commissions by Edward Cole at MGM Records specifically to be premiered on LP. From this point on, Richter continued composing in her highly individual style, receiving a modicum of acclaim but not mainstream success.

Unlike her contemporaries who composed using strict systems of tonal and rhythmic organization, Richter‘s unhappy first marriage and her subsequent plunge into Reichian therapy to explore the depths of her emotional states led her to explore an altogether different way of composing.

Her music follows an intuitive process of through-composition, often starting with small and slow melodies and harmonies that evolve gradually throughout the work. Her process involved going back to the beginning of compositions each day, thinking the piece through to where she’d left off, and continue to let the momentum carry her forward. This somewhat arduous process led to a sometimes slow, but very careful output of works over her 70 years of composition.

In this two-hour Music from Other Minds program, Charles Amirkhanian will explore the life of this under appreciated pioneer of American Music through the lens of her work, giving historical context and commentary along the way.

Program Audio

30-Second Spot

Track Info & Links

Title: Lament for String Orchestra (1956)
Composer: Marga Richter
Performers: Izler Solomon, MGM String Orchestra
Recording Title: Marga Richter: Lament for String Orchestra
Record Label: MGM
Catalog Number: MGM E-3422

Richter Piano Sonata

Title: Sonata for Piano (1954)
Composer: Marga Richter
Performers: Menahem Pressler
Recording Title: Sonata for Piano
Record Label: MGM
Catalog Number: E3244


Title: Transmutation: Eight Songs from the Chinese (1949)
Composer: Marga Richter
Performers: Dorthy Renzi
Recording Title: Dorthy Renzi Sings Ernest Toch and Marga Richter
Record Label: MGM
Catalog Number: E-3422


Title: Landscapes of the Mind I (Piano Concerto No. 2, 1968-74)
Composer: Marga Richter
Performers: Gregory Millar, conducting; Tucson Symphony Orchestra, William Masselos (piano)
Recording Title: N/A
Record Label: Live Performance
Catalog Number: N/A


Title: Düsseldorf Concerto (1982)
Composer: Marga Richter
Performers: JoAnn Falletta, The Women’s Philharmonic Orchestra
Recording Title: N/A Live performance
Record Label: N/A
Catalog Number: N/A

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